One of the most legendary photographs of the Karabakh war depicts an Armenian warrior and an Azerbaijani grandmother. This photo was taken at the very beginning of April 1993. On the photo are a repatriate from France Sarkis Hatspanyan and 81 years old Sheikh Khanum.
On March 27, 1993, the Armenian troops launched an operation to liberate the town of Karvachar (Kelbajar). By March 29, the town had been surrounded, and within 3 days, the Armenian forces occupied the regional center.
The Armenians did not have to take the town by fight – the Azerbaijanis surrendered it. As fellow soldiers of Sarkis told, when they were walking around the village, he approached a group of Azerbaijani women and greeted them in Turkish. One of them looked at him and said with a reproach:
“Why are you so late? Soon, the Armenians will enter the city. Ours told us that they would leave and then send helicopters for us. They flew away, and we were left here. The men fled, leaving the women,” the Azerbaijani woman told Hatspanyan, not realizing that he, in reality, was an Armenian soldier.
“The Armenians have already arrived,” Sarkis replied, explaining that nothing was threatening their lives and that they would be soon safely sent to Gandzak, the town nearest to Karvachar.
French journalist of Armenian descent Zaven Khachikyan photographed a lot in those days and spoke to many Azerbaijanis. Sheikh Khanum was the most sociable among them. She said that her son, the police chief Karvachar, had fled, leaving her behind.
It was then that Zaven Khachikyan made the famous photo which would be published by the French newspaper Libération. Khachikyan signed the photo: “The Azerbaijani woman loves the Armenian volunteer from France more than her own son”. At the same time, the newspaper wrote that the Armenian soldiers showed humanism towards the civilians of Karchavar.
The next day, in order to refute the French press, the Turkish newspaper Milliyet described how tens of thousands of civilians from Karvachar had been subjected to violence. For confirmation, the newspaper posted the photo of Khachikyan with this caption: “The Azerbaijani woman kisses her grandson (Hatspanyan), saying, ‘Go and take revenge on the Armenians for your slaughtered and dishonored relatives.’”
This photo was shown in the Council of Europe in the midst of the Karabakh war. One of the representatives of the Armenian community in Paris, who personally knew Sarkis Hatspanyan, purchased issues of Milliet and Libération with the photos and sent them to the Council of Europe as an example of the lies and slander spread by Turkish propaganda.
It is noteworthy that this photograph among Armenians has always been associated with the events of the Aghdam tragedy that took place on February 26, 1992. Providing civilians with several humanitarian corridors to allow them to leave the combat zone, Armenian soldiers fed the Meskhetian Turks from the village of Khojalu. Back in those days, the Meskhetian Turks told the Armenians that the Azerbaijanis from Khojalu had taken with them a certain number of families but abandoned the Turks.
This yet unfinished war which annually takes the lives of dozens of soldiers has ended for Sarkis Hatspanyan suddenly. The well-known Armenian Turkologist and an expert on regional issues has recently passed away at the age of 56, as stated by his friends on Facebook.
During the last months of his life, Hatspanyan was seriously ill. In November and December, he posted on Facebook that he would go abroad to undergo treatment.
“May you rest in peace. You fought to the end, but alas… We have lost a son of the Armenian people, our dear brother Sarkis Hatspanyan,” wrote one of Hatspanyan’s friends on Facebook.
Sarkis Hatspanyan was born in the city of Alexandrid in Turkey. After the 1980 military coup in Turkey, Hatspanyan left for Europe where he received French citizenship. From the beginning of the 90s, he lived in Armenia, actively participating in the public and political life of the country. In 2013, Sarkis Hatspanyan received Armenian citizenship.
Eternal memory to you, Armenian hero!Valeria Olyunina